Getting There and Getting Around Chile

Although mostly a protected area, about a third of the Salar de Surire salt flats are open to borax mining. Credit: John Van Hoesen Although mostly a protected area, about a third of the Salar de Surire salt flats are open to borax mining. Credit: John Van Hoesen

You can arrive in Arica through a few different channels. The easiest is to fly to Santiago and then Arica with a short stop in Iquique; there are daily flights on LanChile and Sky Airlines. A more adventurous option is to fly into Tacna, Peru, and take either a “collective,” or shared ride, a taxi or the Ferrocarril Tacna-Arica train south to Arica.

From Arica, there are several ways to reach the Altiplano, Putre and Lauca National Park. You can rent a car at the airport and drive yourself, book a tour through one of the travel agencies found along the main pedestrian walkway in downtown Arica (21 de Mayo), visit the Sernatur tourism office (at the western terminus of 21 de Mayo), or take a public bus from a small company called La Paloma (Germán Riesco 2071). The bus costs about 3500 Chilean pesos, about $6 or $7 USD, depending on the exchange rate. 

Many bus companies offer a one-day trip from Arica to the Altiplano and back to Arica. I would avoid these because it doesn’t allow you to acclimate to the altitude. Try to spend at least one night in Putre to acclimate to the thinner air before heading any higher into Lauca. If you do not rent a car, I would recommend taking the La Paloma bus and then hiring a guide at one of a number of 4x4 and trekking companies in the village of Putre.

Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 06:00